Recently, after I gave Dorothy Sayers a Facebook handshake on Hug-an-Author Day because she’s too intimidating to hug, my friend Lynne wrote:

“I’d have to hug Dorothy Sayers (despite the fact that she intimidates me) because of Gaudy Night, one of my top ten books.”

My friend Sarah added, “I read Gaudy Night as a senior in high school… And, yes, it is one of my top ten books, too…I try to read it every year; it’s that good.”

This conversation got me thinking about my own top ten books: what do I read and reread? Why?

So while I was in Texas doing some wild reading with John Wilson, I made a list of the books I just couldn’t imagine living without. No list, of course, can capture the fullness of my literary life and loves, but this one’s a start.

The Bible. (Of course.) And if I was stranded on a desert island, I might become become bored enough to read the whole thing, even Leviticus. And Numbers, which has always defeated me.

The Book of Common Prayer. Or some other prayer book. I need others’ prayers to keep me praying. My own words are so paltry sometimes, so not enough. A good prayer book gives me other words, better words, words tested by time and trial and faith. I wouldn’t ever want to be without those words.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. My daughter and one son are named after this book, and I figure if I’m going to languish on a rocky beach somewhere in the middle of the ocean, I may as well bring Mr. Darcy with me.

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Absolutely hands-down Lewis’s best book. Beautiful, multivalent, and provocative, this novel both haunts and entices me.

The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. I confess I didn’t come to appreciate the depth, breadth, and complexity of Tolkien’s masterpiece until this year when I read it to my kids. This is a book that begs to be read aloud; its rhythms and images and allusions are even richer when heard.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. I once heard that Mr. Rochester is the number one hunky hero of literature for gals in the U.K. I don’t get that myself. I always thought he was eccentric, and not in a good way. But I adore Jane—that girl has ovaries of steel and an iron will to match—and since she loves Mr. R, well, for her sake, I’ve learned to appreciate him (even though I think she deserves way better).

Middlemarch by George Eliot. Every desert island needs one big, fat, sprawling novel. This is mine. Eliot’s compassion, even for her villains, is deep and wide, authentic and convicting. The characters in this book are among the most noble, fallen, beautiful, and alive of any novel I’ve read. Plus, the prose is delicious:

That element of tragedy which lies in the very fact of frequency, has not yet wrought itself into the coarse emotion of mankind; and perhaps our frames could hardly bear much of it. If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.”

Anne of Green Gables (and all the Anne books up through Anne’s House of Dreams) by L.M. Montgomery. I know I said this was a list for grown ups, but even though these are children’s novels, they’re among my favorite books ever. Perhaps I would grow weary of them on a desert island, I don’t know. I do know that I am giving Jane an illustrated copy of Anne of Green Gables for her birthday that I can hardly wait to read with her. I hope these will be on her desert island list someday, too.

Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald. A poem a day, each one wrestling with God or self with such transparency that I find myself wanting to highlight almost every word. This book, along with my Bible and prayer book, travels with me whenever I leave Seattle.

I’m saving spot number ten for Gaudy Night, which I haven’t read since college, but since it’s on the top ten list of two of my dear friends, I’m leaving room for it in my waterproof trunk. Just in case.

Enough about me. What are your top ten can’t-live-without-’em books?


Florilegium comes from two Latin words, meaning flower (flor) and gather (legere). Legere is closely related to the Latin word for reading (lectio). So a florilegium is literally a gathering of the flowers of reading: a collation of the best words, the best books.

I hope you’ll come by every Friday to gaze on some beautiful heart-mind-and-soul flowers. (And stop in at Susan’s, too, for another bouquet).

  • Sarah ‘Hanson’ Kennedy

    What a fun list! You have me thinking :) I think among the books on my island with me would be The Brothers K by David James Duncan (I literally was laughing out loud so hard reading this at times that the passengers on the plane next to me finally made me read it out loud because they wanted in on the humor), To Kill a Mockingbird, Life of the Beloved by Henri Nouwen, and Harry Potter (all 7 of him) :)

  • Dianne Polome

    Oooh I absolutely love book lists! I am going to look for Diary of an Old Soul. And the C.S. Lewis one as well. I think my two top go-to books (besides my Bible) are The Inner Voice of Love by Henri Nouwen, and The Ordering of Love, a collection of Madeleine L’Engle’s absolutely brilliant poetry.

    Thanks for sharing your book loves!

  • Amy Anderson

    Fascinating consideration:) I’ve missed Diary of an Old Soul. . . going to check into that one for sure.

  • Susan Gates

    Hi Kimberlee – I am pleased to find that our top ten lists overlap to an almost astonishing degree! I adore Dorothy Sayers (and have had a crush on Lord Peter since college). You have inspired me to track down Gaudy Night on my shelves and re-read it. Have read most of C.S. Lewis, but missed the one you mentioned so will have to go back to find that one. Are you a fan of Robertson Davies, by any chance?? I might have to take the Deptford Trilogy with me to my island…

  • Sarah Webber

    Oh, the choices. Well, based on my reading behavior of the last 5 years, here they are, off of the top of my head:
    1. Collected Works of Shakespeare (and he only counts as one-ha!)
    2. The Bible (I am sorry to say I have often had to put these two books on top of each other in terms of priorities; they keep changing places.)
    3. The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
    4. The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer
    5. Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan (it’s a 5 book series, but it’s one story.)
    6. How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn
    7. Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
    8. Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot
    9. Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (because it really is that good)

    And now I’m stuck. I liked the Harry Potter series, but I only read it once and don’t really feel the need to go back and read it again. Lord of the Rings is also good, and I read it each year as a new movie came out, but not since. I hated Jane Eyre; just not a Bronte fan. I never made it through Middlemarch, but my life isn’t over yet. I read through most of the collected works of Raymond Chandler earlier this year and while I enjoyed them, I’m not sure I like them that much. I should probably list some thick Russian novel that I’ve just never read but would be worth reading if I had nothing better to do. Or some more poetry.

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Sarah, such a fun list! I love getting to hear about people’s favorite books because it gives me ideas of what I might want to read (or re-read, as the case may be) and because it gives me a glimpse into the person herself. Thanks for sharing the airplane story: what wonderful grace, strangers gathered around words. I love it.

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Dianne, I love Madeleine L’Engle, and I’m learning to love poetry, so I’ll have to look up The Ordering of Love. The only poetry of hers I’m familiar with is A Cry Like a Bell, which I love.
    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Oh Amy, you’re in for a treat! Word to the wise: read slowly :)

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Susan, I feel like an idiot. I’ve never even *heard* of Robertson Davies (she said, cringing in shame). So–I will have to track down this Deptford series you like so well.

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Sarah, I love you, friend! You make me laugh. You also inspire me to read. I’m going to have to get going on Percy Jackson–I think I’ll read it with Jack. And I need to go back and reread the Four Quartets. It’s been awhile since I read the whole thing, though I do dip into it here and there, just to revel in the language. Today I read this from Eliot (though I’m not sure it’s in FQ):
    Where shall the word be found, where will the word
    Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence.

    Amen to that, eh? No wonder I’m falling behind on my blog–the word can’t dwell with me; it’s too loud in my four-child house :)

  • Sarah Webber

    Reading the Percy Jackson series with Jack sounds like a lot of fun. Wish I could loan you my copies.

  • jen

    I would love for my list to be brilliant and impressive; but truly, my “can’t-live-without-’em” picks are not so dazzling.

    1. Jane Eyre ~ Charlotte Bronte (my Atlee Jane’s namesake – plus I do truly love Mr. Rochester)
    2. The Hobbit ~ JRR Tolkien (the best of JRR’s works)
    3. Complete works of William S. (if I am going to be stuck on an island then I pledge to only speak in iambic pentameter. Plus, I could not live without Midsummer Night’s Dream)
    4. The Importance of Being Earnest ~ Oscar Wilde (for wit)
    5. Peter Pan ~ JM Barrie (for imagination)
    6. Good Omens ~ Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (for out loud laughs)
    7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (since I can’t take all seven – this one is by far my favorite. I adore Sirius Black!)
    8. The Willoughbys ~ Lois Lowry (I giggle all the way through)
    9. The Strange Case of Dr, Jekyll and Mr Hyde ~ Robert Lewis Stevenson (this was a very hard choice because it was a toss up between this one, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and all things HP Lovecraft or Edgar Allen Poe — sometimes, I simply must read something twisted and deliciously strange)
    10. Finally… my college art history book (I love this book and reference it on a weekly basis)

    whew… (mopping brow).That was harder than I thought it would be.

  • Kimberlee Conway Ireton

    Um, Jen? What’s not dazzling about this list? That there’s no Dostoevsky on it? He wasn’t on mine, either, just so you know :)